Thursday, November 13

A Weekend of Coersion ...

The weekend was ours to do what we wanted. Friday evening started off tamely enough, when a couple of us saw the new James Bond 007 movie. Cinemas in China are quite different from in the US -- there were no young people under the age of mid-to-late thirties, and the woman next to me spoke on her cell phone the whole time.   The movie was decent, though, and I don't think it's come out in the States yet.  In fact, you can already buy the bootleg DVD here on the street for about seventy-five cents, even though it hasn't hit theaters back home yet.

Saturday, Renee, Lily, Isabel & I decided to use our independent student travel priveleges to explore outside of Kunming. We had hopes of reaching a region known for it's beautiful nature and tiny temples, and someone from our NGO gave us a piece of paper with the characters for our destination written on it. We learned just how difficult it is to navigate in a country where not only the spoken language, but the written characters, are completely foreign. After going to multiple different bus and train stations, we finally found a salesperson who was able to sell us tickets to Li Yiang, our destination. Well, sort of...

We thought we were going 120 kilometers outside of the city, but after only an hour or so, we were woken up by the driver and told quite clearly in charades to get off of the bus. Dazed from our naps, we looked around and saw that we were quite literally simply pulled over on the side of a multi-lane highway. No, we explained, we're going to Li Yiang. This is clearly not right. But they insisted this was Li Yiang, and we were forced off the bus.  (I should say we never felt in danger, and I think it's quite common for these buses to make stops on the way .... other passengers also were dropped off at various exits)

What we found once we'd walked miles off of the exit ramp was a small industrial town with few redeeming tourist attractions. We made do, however, and managed to find a cute restaurant for lunch. This far outside of the city, no one spoke even minimal English, and the woman who owned the shop called us back into the kitchen to choose what we wanted by pointing at ingredients.

Back in Kunming later that afternoon, the four of us were walking through Greenlake Park, one of the city's central locations, and a bustling place on a beautiful autumn afternoon. As we passed by a group huddled around a street performer, the woman singing in the center spotted us foreigners, pushed through the crowd, and literally dragged us in. She thrust a microphone in our hands, began playing a traditional Chinese instrument called an erhu, and insisted that we sing every English-language song she knew, from Jingle Bells to Eidelweiss. Unfortunately, none of the TBB singers were in the group. The four of us combined had severely limited musical skills, and despite our protesting, we were coerced into singing song after song for the crowd.

Me & Isabel

On Sunday, my mother woke me up bright and early, and led me out of the house. I wasn't sure where we were headed, but we picked up Zach and his host-mother on the way, and proceeded to go to the local ballroom dancing club. No, really. Some people go to church on Sunday mornings, apparently my family here goes ballroom dancing. This center was reminiscent of a seventies roller-rink, a giant floor with dark lighting, flashing disco balls, and loud music -- waltz, pop, and techno. I was paired with a fifty-year-old Chinese man with quite the mustache, who was not quite tall enough to spin me, but proceeded to drag me round and round for a number of hours. I should mention that my dancing skills are about on par with my singing ability. Nonetheless, our mothers got great amusement of watching us struggle, and the experience was pretty comical. Unfortunately, since I had no idea what was in store for us that day, I didn't have my camera. But use your wildest imagination -- and that's probably the reality of our experience.

Afterwards, we went to lunch, where we were brought some fruity alcohol drink, which we explained we could not drink. Our mothers scoffed and insisted we could. When we did not, my mother reached into her handbag and pulled out two candies. Zach and I ate what seemed at first to be an innocent chocolate truffle- until we bit in and discovered a liquoer filling: our mothers hooted in laughter -- see, you can have alcohol!

All in all, it was a good and amusing weekend, but one we had little control over. We were coerced off the bus, into a singing performance, onto the dancefloor, and into consuming spiked candies.

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